While the Red Sox brass has been afforded many kudos for the depth that they have developed throughout the system with the pitching staff, homegrown prospects are also evident in abundance with some very important positional players. Pawtucket has become almost like a "taxi" squad for the major league club and Theo has preferred to keep most of the prospects at the AA and A levels at this point in time. Pawtucket has two position players under 27 years old as most of the team has had some major league experience and most are considered solid "4-A" players.
The gem of the system, according to most scouts and minor league publications is left-handed hitting first baseman Lars Anderson. Anderson is a disciplined hitter who, at this time, drives the ball to the gaps more than out of the park but he is seen as having plus-power potential. In a perfect world, Anderson would have started the season at Portland in AA and the Sox would have promoted him to AAA Pawtucket around the All-Star break. Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned. Anderson is struggling in Portland hitting just .228 with 6 HR and 25 RBI in 38 games. Another concern is the 38 strikeouts in 38 games to go along with his less-than-impressive .329 OBP. It appears that, as the anointed Slugger of the Future, Anderson is really pressing to climb up the ladder as quickly as possible and it is clearly affecting him at the plate. This is his first taste of adversity in the minors so Theo is surely watching closely to see how he handles it.
The outfield position is well stocked as well. Josh Reddick, who got off to a solid start this season, is currently struggling to overcome an oblique strain, but he is a solid corner outfielder with a gun for an arm. He has above average power with the one drawback to his game being lack of discipline at the plate.
A couple years ago, Aaron Bates was one of the top power hitting prospects in the Sox system after an outstanding campaign at Single-A Lancaster. After a somewhat lackluster season in 2008 in Portland (.276, 11 HR, 68 RBI) Bates fell of the prospect radar. He has rebounded strongly this season, however, as he has been moved to the outfield and is batting in the clean-up spot behind Anderson. Bates has posted a .323 average with 5 HR and 28 RBI thus far and appears to be back on track.
The third outstanding outfield prospect closest to helping out at the major league level is Ryan Kalish, a speedy, disciplined hitter who would probably be a centerfield prospect in most systems but, with Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield with the parent club, Kalish is being groomed as a corner outfielder for the Sox. He was recently promoted to Portland from the High-A Salem team after starting the season there hitting.304 with 5 HR, 21 RBI, and 8 stolen bases to go along with an outstanding .434 OBP. While he has struggled at the outset in AA, Kalish is starting to come alive over the past few games as he adjusts to the next level.
As Jason Varitek has aged, the question regarding the catcher of the future has been discussed frequently. George Kottaras is currently with the big club and he has impressed during limited opportunities so far this season. Tim Wakefield clearly feels comfortable with him behind the plate and he has shown the potential for displaying some pop at the plate.
As the 2008 season started, Mark Wagner was considered the catcher of the future in the system. However, a very disappointing season where Wagner hit .219 with and OBP of .304 caused this assertion to be reevaluated. This season, however, Wagner has turned it around at the AA level. He is hitting a robust .320 with a great .447 OBP through 21 games while continuing to demonstrate the ability to be a top-notch defensive catcher at the major league level.
The freshly designated catcher of the future, Luis Exposito, got off to a slower than hoped for start in Single-A Salem but after hitting .325 in the past 10 games he has raised his season's average to a respectable .266 with 2 HR and 20 RBI. At 6'3" and 210 pounds he has the perfect build for a catcher as well as a strong arm and a reported solid work ethic.
Shortstop has two slick fielding youngsters eyeing the big time. Twenty-one year old Argenis Diaz flashes the leather on a consistent basis with AA Portland. While not a power hitting prospect, he has hit consistently between .260 - .280 thus far in the minors. Anyone who has seen this young man field and throw would be more than satisfied with that average if he continues to field as he has in Portland.
Another 21-year old, Yamaico Navarro, has played just one game at Salem due to injury but his performance over the past couple years has placed him in the discussion as a major league shortstop of the future.
Its always difficult to project these players as future stars but looking at the current team with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jed Lowrie thriving at the major league level after coming through the system, it isn't hard to envision several of these position players making an impact on the team over the next 2-3 years. Anderson, Reddick, and possibly Wagner/Exposito are being counted on to be regular contributors to the line-up in two years and Kalish will join them in 3 years if all goes according to plan. This depth will provide the Sox with plenty of salary flexibility going forward and the ability to fill holes via trade at the major league level when needed.